Text by Charlie Fox
New World Agency™
TALES FROM UNDER THE BRIDGE:
A MYTHOLOGICAL MIXTAPE
Inspired by Mark Leckey’ new VR work, The Bridge, Charlie Fox creates a trippy mixtape of undead voices, drawing on the same preoccupations with British ghosts, mythology, technology, pop culture and magic which have haunted Leckey throughout his career.
The remains of England’s legendary M53 Bridge at Ellesmere Port have long been known as a high-density zone for supernatural antics. Quite what the code ‘M53’ refers to now cannot be ascertained. The strange neolithic structure, built at some point in the wilderness of time (perhaps in the 1760s, judging by the surviving data), was a bridge, that much is known: a method of transport from one world to another, including the worlds of the demonic and the human, the living and the dead. Through the use of stone tape audio reconstruction technology, we are able to date and transcribe all talk relating to the structure and environs across a span of several centuries, deciphering the noise through layers of storm damage, radioactive dust and the unseen haunted weather of time itself.
Anthropologists are certain that the underneath of the bridge was repurposed as a lair for deviant youth. They, like the bridge itself, were the object of both fear and celebration, elements of a complex and diabolical urban mythology in which the bridge acted as a strange totem.
Why exactly this site should be so saturated in its own weirdness is a mystery that cannot be fathomed. Stranger still, more recent research excursions undertaken to the bridge by scientists and recording engineers indicate that magical activity is still afoot in the area (sinister flashes of light; animals mesmerized and rendered into flames; weird songs drifting on the air still rich with toxic chemicals): it still howls, especially at night.
“Oh, it was a proper dare to go down there, wasn’t it? Under the bridge…”
“Yeah, you come back inside out. Or you won’t come back at all.”
“When we were little kids, we’d say, Oh, there’s tigers down there, zombies, bloodthirsty tramps. Scare each other half to death…”
“It did look like a monster: all huge and dark with that enormous like hungry mouth. It did loom.”
“When you got older, there was the classic ultraviolent mythology of So-and-So’s brother got stabbed down there…”
“Yeah, suddenly you were scared of not like phantasmagorical stuff, but Dead Phil and Gmork and Dennis are these rabid like droogs who are gonna kick your head in.”
“But they were alright provided you just had cider and weed for them…”
“Dennis brewed up that speed in his dad’s bath, didn’t he? Like gulping down thunderbolts. Amazing.”
“There was something spooky about the bridge itself, wasn’t there? I mean, carved into it in the dead dark… I get the shivers just thinking about it…”
“How the wind howled… the infinite darkness of space. Like Alien. Ran home from the video shop with that like it was a bomb.”
“I saw creatures cavorting down there at night. Demons.”
“Oh, we all did. Stone bollock sober in the middle of the afternoon, between Pebble Mill and cartoons, when you were supposed to be at school… It wasn’t just a glue-cination, y’know, huff a bag, eviscerate your brain: it was real as the sky.”
“They were running amok, all skinny and feral, smoking cigs, singing in our voices, oozing that eerie orange light…”
“Sunshine dumped in toxic waste. Used to sparkle when you were high, remember? Sunshine in the middle of the night.”
“When you saw them, it wasn’t like an evil feeling: it was dreamy. They were your mates. I can still feel it sometimes on the breeze. Something from this other world…”
“Oh, I always thought they were angels. Angels can be good or bad, right? See an angel, home in time for tea.”
[flashback conversation between two members of a bridge clan]
“I cannot see, man! Remind me never to trust you again, Jeremiah, luring me to the barren north on a winter’s night like this, stumbling fruitlessly after unreal sprites and demons—”
“The keeper of the brewery’s hounds avouched they would be here, Mr. Rackham! Real creatures for you to draw!”
“Taking the word of a brewer, Jeremiah! Their minds are fed on evil mould and are zoos of insanity. These creatures would not be hereabouts in any case but in the woods where ghosts feast! Not this slab of wretched anonymous moorland!”
“But his eyes blazed with wisdom, Mr. Rackham! Like a magus: ‘Here may your master draw from the very life,’ he said, like in that tale by Mr. James…”
“Yuletide spook stories! And kindly refrain from cackling like a hyaena, my heart does flux at the noise.”
“I made no sound, sir…”
“I hear the laughter, too… See that light?”
“Don’t run ahead and abandon me, Jeremiah! Perhaps there are beasts in the dark…”
“Come quick, Mr. Rackham, sir, come quick! We have caught them mid-frolic.”
“Good lord! It is a riot!”
“I wager that is a hobgoblin, sir, his bones like blistered oaks. And there a pixie with his fiendish grin.”
“Fetch up my things, lad, I must get this down.”
“Ah, Mr. Rackham, never have I seen such light…”
[conversation between Arthur Rackham, Victorian illustrator, and his young assistant, Jeremiah Eldritch]
“Heard the cars going over my head all the time: Zzzhummm… zzzhummm. Zoned out to that for hours. After a while, I merged with the vehicle. I really felt like I was just this engine, full of these strange malign forces. I couldn’t tell where I ended or started and it didn’t matter at all.”
[local rough sleeper]
“Ended up under M53 Bridge
A neolithic nuclear bunker
Some sad Regency-type ghouls wept into my wings
I said, Boys, I cannot bear to watch, uh,
[reconstructed local version of “Wings” by Mark E. Smith]
“I was running through the snow, back when the cold had fangs, y’know? I was maybe seven, just messing about but I start yelling, ‘The fall out! The fall out’s got me!’ Oh, I got a smack. But we were all scared witless about the nuclear bomb then. It just came out.”
[local woman reminisces]
“Come all ye traumatized housewives
Subject to strange pharmacological weather
Arteries furred with Smash and flamed with Cinzano Rosso!
Come all ye dogs thin as smoke from the estate!
All ye wretched denizens of the petrol station forecourt at midnight
With your stash of dirty moon dust speed
And Batman acid!
Come ye to the bridge
Where time is nonsense!
Where Thursdays come in threes
And tomorrow is medieval.
Come ye to the bridge
Where time is slime!”
“BEWARE THE BRIDGE
BEWARE THE BRIDGE
IT’LL STEAL YOUR MIND
AND EAT YOUR KIDS.”
“Fucking Mike Leigh said he was gonna make a film about rave, Disco Biscuits for Mildred or something, and do a scene where the lead got lushed out down there. Never happened in the end. Funding issues.”
With thy dark subterranean corridor!
Which hides beast and fiend untold
Conceals ghostly magic too and mighty feasts of gold.
What evil held therein, I know,
By infernal chorus chanting after dark
Is mirrored by wonders too that flow
From the same phantasmic spark.
And though you seem to be a thing of silent brooding stone
You secretly seethe and whisper mysteries
That chase every stray creature home.
Here, then, is the greatest mystery:
It is always dark down there
Your darkness gives us such wicked things to see.”
[poem, 19th century, author unknown]
“Non-linear time, Professor! It makes sense. Think about it: things move back and forth on a bridge, don’t they? Wormholes. Strange lures from past or future into our reality, now!”
“Drunk on your own promise, my boy, you have dragged me to this dismal spot and I find… nothing. A vacant urban space, reverberant with a future that did not come to pass, full of shadows, grime and gloom. Nothing to get excited about.”
“I don’t expect it to yield its secrets under our scientific attention, but over time—!”
“Demons with performance anxiety, Stephen, how droll. Are we in Ghostbusters? Is the service station nearby the new lair of the Minotaur?”
“Forgive me, my boy, I will be waiting in the car.”
[conversation between two scientists, enacted in BBC television drama]
“And then one night, three brothers came down to the bridge in their Day-Glo tracksuits to vanquish the scaly sorrowful troll who dwelt beneath it at last. Their elders were scared to cross the bridge by day or dark for fear of battle with the monster, and no traffic roared across the bridge at all which left the town desolate and lonesome.”
“We’ve brung you gifts, Father Troll!” said the brothers in chorus.
“Gifts?” growled the Troll, delighted, “for me?” And heaving his bulk from the gloom he stepped out to greet the three boys on the overpass: no one had brung him gifts before.
Sly as tigers, the boys had drawn up a scheme and plundered the local supermarkets: they were very wicked gifts.
“I have brung you delicious biscuits!” yelled the first brother. Touched, the Troll ripped into the fluorescent packaging and gobbled the chocolate treats… But soon the chemicals inside them seethed: his teeth began to splinter, his gums began to bleed.
“I have brung you fizzy orange drink to take away the taste!” crowed the second brother, shaking the bottle hard as he cracked it open so it exploded like a Molotov cocktail in the Troll’s eager eyes and hissed like a hundred snakes!
Blinded, he staggered around the overpass, sick and sore, as the brothers cackled.
“And I have brung you beautiful music!” said the last brother, and lit tons of bottle rockets that shrieked across the sky. Fleeing all the horror, the poor Troll jumped from the underpass and tumbled down, down, down into the dark where he fell with an infernal crash. Bones all broken, brain screaming, he lay there in the moonlight, his putrid heart beginning to fail.
Suddenly full of sadness, the boys swooped to the Troll’s aid.
“You rotten boys!”, the dying Troll croaked, “I lay a hex on you heretofore: you shall never go home! You shall never taste egg and chips again! You shall be the deviant sprites of the Bridge, forever making mischief here as punishment for your deeds.”
“No, Father Troll!” the boys all cried.
But this hex took the Troll’s last gasp of strength and he died there and then, his mottled tongue falling from his mouth like an awful scroll. And the boys caught fire and rushed weeping in the ghastly damp hollows and shadowscapes of the Bridge, flame-light streaming from their bodies in glorious sparks. And, oh, how they sobbed. But their cries soon became cackles in time…”
[local fairytale, frequently told ‘when the sun has gone to bed’]
“I was down there for the eclipse, 1999. I still don’t know what that was. The sun and the moon snogging. The sun and the moon turned into this mad crystal ball. Mystic Meg. ‘It could be you.’ I was just this awed jelly. That was my only time being properly overwhelmed by the sublime. And the further away it gets, the more it feels like a dream. Yeah, more and more it feels like a dream.”
“Well, it’s haunted, isn’t it? What else can you call it?”
“I reckon lots of places are haunted, mate, if you listen carefully.”
“You want another cig?”
[bridge clan flashback conversation; remix]
MARK LECKEY (b. 1964, Birkenhead, UK) is a contemporary artist working with a variety of media including film, sound, sculpture and performance. His work explores the relationship between popular culture and technology and explores the subjects of anxiety, class and nostalgia. In 2008 he won the Turner Prize for his exhibition Industrial Light and Magic and has had recent solo exhibitions at: Tate Britain, London; MoMA PS1, New York; and CABINET Gallery, London. His most recent project, O Dreamland, opened at Turner Contemporary, Margate in October 2023.
CHARLIE FOX is a writer and artist who lives in London. He wrote the book of essays This Young Monster, directed a music video for Oneohtrix Point Never with Emily Schubert and curated twin horror shows My Head is a Haunted House and Dracula’s Wedding. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Artforum, Dazed, The Paris Review and The New York Times.